As we celebrate National Agriculture Day and all the good that Aussie farmers do, this is also an opportune time to underline the importance and vital role that the industry plays in the life of our country.
Now in its fourth year, National Ag Day is a day for all of us to recognise the contributions farmers and regional communities make to our economy and social fabric.
Of all the major disruptions the farming sector has navigated over the past few years, none has been like this year. First the lingering effects of a debilitating drought, then the devastating bushfires earlier in the year, and, most recently, the global pandemic.
In my role as the leader of our Regional and Agribusiness Banking team at Commonwealth Bank, I see and hear about these impacts first-hand. I also get to hear the human stories of resilience, of courage, of care and the commitment of Australian farmers to their industry, their livelihoods, their families and their communities.
And as much as they have done it tough, I am also constantly inspired by the examples of adaptability, of change and the new, innovative approaches that are happening every day across the different sectors that make up our industry.
This innovative spirit has shone through over the past few months. Not only have the customers I have spoken to protected themselves against some of the global market challenges, more importantly they've also embraced new opportunities. They've adapted their business models to meet changing market demand and consumer preferences.
With a focus on food security and supermarket shortages this year due to the coronavirus and trade issues, a light has shone on agriculture's status as one of the most critical pillars of our economy.
Throughout 2020, farmers have worked hard to deliver our food and fibre in new ways. They've kept our supermarkets stocked with fresh produce, our people fed and our economy going.
And it's been positive to see so many agribusinesses turn a corner and enter a period of expansion. We've seen successful winter crops in many regions, and strong optimism about yields and quality of harvest ahead.
Farmer confidence is at an all-time high. Nationally, farm values are up, commodity prices are holding firm, interest rates are at record lows, seasonal conditions have been good, there is strong consumer and retail demand for fresh produce, and there's Government incentives like the instant asset write off scheme.
All of this is spurring investment in the sector.
Over the past few months we've seen asset financing in the sector increase dramatically - largely driven by farmers purchasing agricultural machinery for this year's crop season. Across the country, new asset financing for tractors is up 119 per cent - the highest volumes we've seen in the past three years - and financing for harvesters is also up, by 108 per cent.
This confidence is good for everyone; for the regional towns where the farms are located, for the whole supply chains that support our farmers, for the markets they sell to, and for the rest of us who enjoy fresh Australian produce.
One of the unforeseen but beneficial impacts of the coronavirus pandemic has been the light shone on the liveability and attractions of Australia's regional areas. A dramatic change in the way Australians work means the opportunity to build a meaningful career in a regional area is greater than it has ever been before. With greater flexibility in the workplace, more people are embracing regional living and the work-life balance and affordability that comes with it.
And while a permanent move isn't for everyone, summer is fast approaching and the emphasis on and the opportunities afforded by domestic tourism has been growing as people take a break away from the cities and explore their own backyard.
I truly believe we're on the cusp of a regional renaissance with more and more people looking to visit, move to or invest in regional Australia.
But despite the many opportunities that present, we must remember that there are too many folks still doing it tough. Now, more than ever, is the time to support our local regional industries - such as tourism and hospitality - that continue to face challenges.
At CommBank, we continue to support these businesses through a variety of measures whether that's new loans at low rates, opportunities to take up different federal and state government initiatives or deferred loan repayments and restructuring facilities if they still need help through the current economic difficulties.
Each and every one of us can do our bit. I'd encourage you today, and in the months ahead, to back our regional towns. Make your next family trip a regional one, go and buy your next purchase from a local Australian business, and stock up on our local, quality produce.
The agricultural sector is a vital part of our economy, and will play a critical role in our country's economic recovery from coronavirus.
National Ag Day is a perfect opportunity for all of us to take a moment to recognise Aussie farmers and the important role they play in our country's success. So today let's all celebrate our Aussie farmers and regional communities.
On behalf of CommBank, we want you to know that we're here to support you, and just as importantly to say a huge thank you for all that you do for us and our country.
Grant Cairns is the Executive General Manager, Regional and Agribusiness Banking at Commonwealth Bank.
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